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Rise and fall of Gupta brothers: An Indian-South African tale of politics, power, corruption

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JUNE 7, 2022

Three brothers from Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur are making international headlines, but sadly for all the wrong reasons. On Monday, June 6, the South African government said that law enforcement authorities in the UAE have arrested Rajesh Gupta and Atul Gupta for using their ‘close proximity’ with former president Jacob Zuma to profit financially and influence senior appointments. The third brother, Ajay Gupta, has not been arrested, yet.

The three brothers had moved from UP to Saharanput in 1990s. In what seemed to be rags to riches story, the Gupta brothers, who had a small business in Saharanpur, managed to set up a flourishing company in South Africa. As they developed political connections, the Gupta brothers simultaneously expanded their business network from computers to air travel, energy, mining, technology and media. Their close association with Jacob Zuma prompted critics to coin the word ‘zupta’ for the Indian-origin brothers.

And then it all came crashing down in 2016-17 when the corruption allegations began to tighten their noose around the Gupta family in South Africa.

GUPTA BROTHERS’ JOURNEY: FROM UP’S SAHARANPUR TO SOUTH AFRICA

The Gupta brothers- Ajay, Atul, and Rajesh- lived in a dilapidated building in Rani Bazar in Western UP’s Saharanpur before they moved to South Africa in 1990s. Their father, Shiv Kumar Gupta, ran ‘Gupta and Company’ that specialized in distributing soapstone powder. He also made money by importing spices from Madagascar and Zanzibar through his Delhi-based business, SKG Marketing.

In the 1980s, Shiv Kumar Gupta told his sons that Africa would become the next ‘America of the World’. And that is how Atul Gupta, who had completed courses on assembling, repairing and maintaining Apple hardware, landed in South Africa to explore business opportunities.

Atul Gupta, who was the eldest of the brothers, arrived in South Africa when the country was opening up to the world after the end of apartheid. There was no red tape at all. Ajay and Rajesh soon followed their elder brother’s footsteps.

File photo of Ajay Gupta and Rajesh Gupta. (Source: Getty Images)

Atul Gupta set up Sahara Computers in 1993. In 2016, Sahara had an annual turnover of about 22 million dollars and employed 10,000 people.

THE ‘GUPTA EMPIRE’

The Gupta Brothers became close to Jacob Zuma, it is said, after a meeting between him and Atul Gupta at a Sahara Computer event around 2015-16. Rajesh, the younger Gupta brother, was a “very close friend” and business partner of Zuma’s son Duduzane.

Rajesh Gupta with Duduzane Zuma (Source: Gallo images)

The wealthy Gupta family was accused of exercising political influence in South Africa. In 2016, South Africa saw a major political controversy after the then deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas alleged that a member of the Gupta family had offered him the position of finance minister if he advanced their business interests.

Ajay Gupta denied the allegation, saying he had never met Mcebisi Jonas.

Around the same time, former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan also alleged that he held the Gupta Brothers responsible for having been fired from the Jacob Zuma government.

Moreover, the relationship between Guptas and South Africa’s first family came under harsh glare after it was found that a family plane carrying guests for their daughter’s wedding landed at the Waterkloof Air Base near Pretoria, the base usually reserved for visiting heads of state and diplomatic delegations.

FALL OF GUPTA EMPIRE

In 2017, about 1 lakh emails were leaked establishing how deeply the Gupta brothers influenced the Jacob Zuma government. This led to massive protests against the Gupta brothers.

It all finally came crashing down for the Gupta family after the opposition brought a no-confidence motion against Jacob Zuma, forcing him to step down as South Africa’s president. Following this, the Gupta brothers fled to Dubai.

Jacob Zuma was accused of “state capture”- siphoning off of state assets- in association with the Gupta brothers. The three brothers hailing from UP’s Saharanpur were said to be so influential that it was alleged that they decided the policies of the Jacob Zuma government.

ARREST OF GUPTA BROTHERS

In 2018, the Gupta family fled South Africa after Jacob Zuma was forced to step down as president.

The South African government had appealed to the UN to get the Guptas back to South Africa when negotiations with the UAE did not yield results because there was no extradition treaty between the two countries.

The treaty was ratified in June 2021, when South Africa immediately began the process of requesting extradition of the Guptas.

Furthermore, in July 2021, Interpol issued a “red notice” against two of the three brothers- Atul and Rajesh- over alleged involvement in a massive web of corruption in South Africa.

Almost a year later, Rajesh Gupta and Atul Gupta were arrested by UAE authorities on Monday.

Announcing their arrest, the South African Department of Justice and Correctional Services said, “Discussions between various law enforcement agencies in the UAE and South Africa on the way forward are ongoing. The South African government will continue to co-operate with the UAE.”


Courtesy/Source: India Today

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